Giving up play-calling duties helped Nick Sirianni elevate Eagles


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There was a time when the offensive gurus would never give up what got them there. They made their way in the NFL as quarterback whisperers and innovative play-callers and those attributes attracted an owner and general manager out there to hire them to a head-coaching position. Running the entire show also meant continuing to do what you do best. 

Brian Daboll did not follow that script when he was hired by the Giants. He had been a prolific and proficient play-caller for several NFL teams, most notably relaying the plays that turned Josh Allen into a star with the Bills. But when Daboll came to the Giants, he realized he needed to be all things to all people. He could not have his face stuck behind a laminated play-chart. Not only did he give up the play-calling duties on offense, he did not give the assignment to one of his longtime coaching confidants. He went out of his network and hired Mike Kafka, someone Daboll had never worked with previously. 

Kafka arrived from the Chiefs, incorporated some of the Andy Reid offense into Daboll’s system and the pairing worked so well that Daniel Jones had his best NFL season, the Giants made the playoffs and Kafka became a hot head-coach candidate and remains in the running for the openings with the Colts and Cardinals

Nick Sirianni gave up play-calling duties when the Eagles were struggling last year.
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Nick Sirianni, in his second year as a head coach, has the Eagles as one of only two teams left standing, a slight favorite to beat Reid’s Chiefs in Super Bowl 2023 in Glendale, Ariz. Sirianni became a head coach at age 40 and did not immediately do what Daboll did — give up the play-calling duties — but he eventually came to the realization that serving as the head coach meant he needed to focus on the big picture. 

Sirianni in 2021 embarked on his head-coaching career with the Eagles by calling the plays. The Eagles started out losing five of their first seven games but rallied to finish 9-8 before a wild-card playoff loss to the Buccaneers. During that season, Sirianni actually handed off the play-calling to Shane Steichen, the offensive coordinator. There was no formal announcement and the change was not made public, but Steichen became the primary play-caller in the second half of last season. 

In year No. 2, Sirianni made it clear that Steichen would call the plays. Unlike Daboll, who entrusted this responsibility with someone he had never worked with, Sirianni had a strong relationship with Steichen from their time together with the Chargers. When Sirianni was their offensive coordinator, Steichen was the quarterbacks coach. 

The move helped make Sirianni a better head coach and helped the Eagles soar through the season, averaging 28.1 points a game, third in the league, behind only the Chiefs (29.2) and Bills (28.4). Along the way, Sirianni learned something about himself: He enjoyed the game-planning each week more than the actual play-calling. 

Shane Steichen
Shane Steichen took over as the team’s play-caller last year.

Nick Sirianni
Nick Sirianni said he enjoys game-planning more than play-calling.
Getty Images

“It’s just the process,’’ Sirianni said. “It’s the same reason that you enjoy the journey of the season more than maybe you enjoy just one particular game because it’s just all about the journey. 

“I love being in the game-plan meetings, going and grinding and dissecting through all the film and finding the little things that you needed to find to help the players be successful, put them in good positions, help them understand the opponent. It’s just the camaraderie with the coaches, the camaraderie with the players. When you go through that process together, we talk so much about connecting, that’s a big important part of it, of the connecting, because you’re tired together, you feel like your eyes are bleeding at times together, all our backs and our necks are messed up because we’re sitting in these chairs looking at a computer screen. We’re all that way together as far as coaches. 

“Then kind of talking about the plan and discussing the plan and refining the details of the plans with the players. We have really smart players that we talk through these things with, and tweak things based off what they see, as well. It’s just the grind that you love, it’s the journey that you love, it’s the camaraderie from the grind and the journey that continues to pull people together.’’ 

Just as a play-calling role elevated Kafka’s profile, so too with Steichen’s. He recently spoke with the Texans and Panthers about their head-coaching vacancies — DeMeco Ryans and Frank Reich got those jobs, respectively — and, like Kafka, remains in the running for the Colts’ position. At some point, Kafka and/or Steichen might have to decide whether to retain or give up the play-calling if they become a head coach.

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